Europe is witnessing record-breaking COVID-19 infections: What's behind the latest surge

"Europe is once again at the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic." “We don't want a fifth wave.” “We need to turn the tide. T...

"Europe is once again at the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic."

“We don't want a fifth wave.”

“We need to turn the tide. There's really no time to lose”

Coronavirus is back with a vengeance in Europe with countries like Germany, Austria, Netherlands and France battling with surging numbers of cases — hospitals swamped with COVID-19 patients.

Here’s a look at the situation in Europe and what's driving these rise in numbers.

Surge in cases

On 4 November, Dr Hans Kluge, the director of the World Health Organization’s Europe region had warned that the region was "back at the epicentre of the pandemic," and his words have proved true.

On Friday, Germany recorded 52,970 daily new infections, a day after registering over 65,000 daily cases, a record since the start of the pandemic. Health officials are warning that the number is likely to at least double in the coming days.

Reacting to the situation, German health minister Jens Spahn said that the pandemic situation has worsened over the past week and it's now "more serious than last week," adding that the country is facing "a national emergency."

The situation in Germany has forced authorities to impose stricter curbs. These include access to restaurants and hotels only to those who are either vaccinated or have recovered from the virus. Also, some of the traditional Christmas markets have already been cancelled while others mull over their decisions.

The situation in neighbouring Austria was no better. The country recorded 15,145 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.
Hospitalisations, deaths and the number of COVID-19 patients in ICU are also rising fast in Austria.

These numbers are despite 65 percent of Austria’s population been fully vaccinated against the virus. The country has the second-lowest vaccination rate in Western Europe after Liechtenstein.

The Alpine country announced that it was imposing a full national COVID-19 lockdown starting on Monday. Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said it would last a maximum of 20 days and there would be a legal requirement to get vaccinated from 1 February 2022.

Under the measures, Austrians will be asked to work from home, non-essential shops will close, and schools will remain open for children who require face-to-face learning. They will continue until 12 December, but will be reassessed after 10 days.

Netherlands is also witnessing record highs in the infection rate. The Dutch country saw more than 20,000 new cases reported on Wednesday. In fact, the country, which has imposed a three-week partial lockdown, saw violence on Friday.

Demonstrators protest against government restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic in Rotterdam, Netherlands. AP

Dutch police shot and wounded at least two people after rioting erupted in Rotterdam over the pandemic measures. Protesters had gathered and were throwing rocks and fireworks and even set police cars ablaze. They were protesting against the government plans for a COVID-19 vacccine pass and a ban on fireworks on New Year's Eve.

Rotterdam's mayor termed the incident as 'an orgy of violence', according to a BBC report. The city was placed under a state of emergency and its main station closed as a result of the violence.

Hungary too has been fighting a rise in cases; on Friday it reported 11,289 new cases ¬— its highest tally. The surge has forced authorities to make booster shots mandatory for all healthcare workers and require mask wearing in most indoor places from today.

The situation in France is no better either; it is in the grips of a fifth wave and number of new cases topped 20,000 on Wednesday — a level not reached since 25 August.

Belgium too has imposed stricter COVID-19 curbs such as working from home and indoor mask use amid a sharp rise in cases.

Why these numbers?

Europe is among the most vaccinated regions. Germany has a vaccination rate of about 67.24 percent, while France has vaccinated 76 percent of its population.

So, why is it that these countries are struggling?

According to experts, it's because small pockets of unvaccinated people are driving the transmission.

As Sam McConkey, head of the International Health and Tropical Medicine department at the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences in Dublin explained in a report to CNN, "What we have now is an epidemic of the unvaccinated — about 10 percent of our population over 12 is unvaccinated, and we're seeing an epidemic in those people, predictably."

Experts are of the opinion that each extra percentile isolates the virus and eases pressure on hospitals. They also said that until countries don't inoculate around mid-90 percent of their population, the unvaccinated pockets would drive the transmission.

Also, new variants such as the Delta variant, which is known for its easy transmission, compounds the matter.

Another issue that many European nations aren’t realising is the complacency in following COVID-19 protocol. Social distancing and masking has become a thing of the past in many of the European nations, which are now battling the virus.

Ralf Reintjes, professor of epidemiology and public health surveillance at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany, was quoted as saying that ‘corona fatigue’ had set in and people were tired of the pandemic.

The weather in European nations has also played its role in driving up the numbers. The autumn-winter season is the best season for transmitting the virus. People tend to remain indoors, making transmission that much easier.

While Europe battles these issues, we hope that India learns from it and doesn’t drop its guard down in the fight against the virus.

With inputs from agencies

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India World News: Europe is witnessing record-breaking COVID-19 infections: What's behind the latest surge
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